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Where small is beautiful...

Sue Wingate visited Howick Farm early in 2000 and her article appeared on the Joy of Horses website.

On arrival at Howick Farm I was presented with an idyllic scene. Surrounded by many acres of rolling Sussex farmland I suddenly knew how Gulliver must have felt in Lilliput. As far as the eye could see there were literally hundreds of very small equines indeed - groups of mares and their miniscule offspring, grazing, and dozing contentedly in the warmth of the summer afternoon. Accustomed to larger horses, it took me some time to adjust to the change in scale. Spacious paddocks that would suit a handful of horses were populated by large herds of their miniature cousins. In fact this was part of the novelty - seeing the ponies living as herds, each complete with a stallion.

Wandering around the nearby farm buildings I could hear squeals and sounds of great activity from the barn. Inside a large straw pen a chestnut stallion was exercising himself, galloping furiously around, bucking, screeching to a halt, snorting and generally behaving like any other stallion let loose for a while. One thought that crossed my mind at the time was that these ponies don't think small; it is only our perception that makes them seem different. In the back of the barn there were many pens containing ponies, and a small group of ponies (apparently awaiting export) were taking their siesta in the deep straw. In fact, every nook and cranny seemed to contain ponies!

Apparently I had arrived at bottle-feeding time. No sooner had I met the Stud's seemingly tireless proprietor, Mrs Tikki Adorian, than I was whisked along to see one of the very latest additions being bottle-fed. Sadly, having foaled in the field, and probably temporarily weakened by the event, his mother could not identify him as her foal when she got to her feet. To her he had become part of the herd, and although she was now in the adjacent pen, she was refusing to have anything to do with him. Instead, she grieved for her 'lost' foal. This is something that can happen in a herd situation and it was obvious that bottle-feeding was nothing new to the foal's owner. Indeed, she recounted tales of going out on social occasions with a foal on the back seat of her car because it required feeding religiously every couple of hours - day and night!

Fortunately, this particular 'casualty' was thriving on his bottle feeds and survived his unfortunate start in life to become a healthy youngster. By the time I left he was waiting for his next feed. I wondered how anybody could cope with such regular demands and run a stud populated by hundreds of other animals, all requiring varying degrees of attention and care, not to mention the inevitable - and usually endless - administrative duties required to maintain the whole operation.

Under the circumstances I was amazed that my hostess also found time to give me lunch and to whisk me around the farm by car. Coming across a paddock of llamas was one of my first surprises: "Why llamas?" I enquired. "Because they look rather nice, don't you agree?", came the reply. I hadn't yet realised that the farm is also home to an assortment of pigmy goats, Jacobs sheep, ducks, cats, Plumin dogs - and to complete the happy mixture, a Shire horse. Anyway you care to look at it, this is an impressive inventory of livestock - and a considerable responsibility. It wasn't difficult to understand how a small venture grew into such a huge one. The size of the ponies and miniature horses meant that they put less pressure on the land available - at least until their numbers had multiplied many times over!

Tikki Adorian's first experience of miniature equines came at the tender age of three when she learned to ride on a very small Shetland. Her sister had a donkey and, by the time the two girls were only five and seven-years-old, they were allowed to ride off for a day on the Downs near Arundel with a picnic! Such days of innocent childhood pleasure are sadly long gone, but memories of them must have played their part in what was to come.

When Tikki married in 1961 her wedding present was a mini-Shetland, purchased at Haywards Heath market because Tikki felt sorry for it. Sadly, the pony did not respond to her tender loving care and died. A replacement was purchased, this being Hurtwood Romany, a stallion that was already covering mares at the age of two. His first two foals were Romeo and Juliet - happily the latter is still alive! Another important pony was Edwina, probably the most famous of the foundation stock. She and Romany were both black and very successful in the show ring; when their show careers were over, the stud was built up for Romany and it remained exclusively a Shetland stud until the late 1970s.

Gradually the herds developed and before long the farm was home to 24 stallions, of which 14 were out running with their mares. Naturally many of the foals were sold and the farm became one of the leading exporters of miniatures in Europe, and possibly the world.

It was in the seventies that the first spotted pony arrived at the stud, by the name of Ermintoes. He had the distinction of having sired his first foal at full gallop! The result of this amazing feat was Hayes Hill Domino, and he is still active at stud.

The miniature Toy horses developed from the stock of Toyhorse Alpine Boy, whose sire had a small amount of Welsh blood in him. It is easy to spot his descendents - they are more refined, with the lovely heads so typical of that breed, and a distinctive stance. Some of Tikki's very best bloodlines descend from TH Alpine Boy, including TH Alpine Spring Lass and TH Alpine Shadow Girl. One of Alpine Boy's most famous sons is TH Choirboy, who is now in the USA.

In addition to British Spotted bloodlines, Tikki introduced Falabella blood from Argentina to her stud in the form of Spitfire. Falabellas really are small horses as opposed to ponies, despite their diminutive size. As small horses, they have more depth through the heart and more 'daylight' beneath them, whereas a pony is essentially shorter and chunkier in its overall shape. This point is certainly clearly made when lining up a miniature Shetland and a Toyhorse side by side.

Standing no more than 34", they are rather delicate in appearance and have very fine bone. All Falabellas descend from one stallion with a 'dwarf' gene. He was discovered in the 19th Century by an Irishman named Newton when he settled in Argentina. When bred with other stock it was evident that the stallion's genes for small size were dominant, and the breed gradually evolved as he and his offspring were crossed with other breeds. This accounts for the great diversity in colour, including spotted and 'painted' or 'coloured' horses.

In the early years Tikki Adorian had a close association with the American Miniature Horse Society and became their Honorary Foreign Director - until it was suggested that their register for all horses of 34" and under (which included Tikki's pure British bloodlines) became the basis for an American breed. Tikki had already formed a British registry and she decided that the only sensible course of action was to found the British Miniature Horse Society, to which the registry was donated. This was achieved in 1994, since when the BMHS has continued to grow and expand and to hold its own shows and championships.

Some American bloodlines were introduced to the Stud in the mid-nineties when Tikki's friend, Paolo Gucci, died. He had previously bought many horses from the Stud and Tikki was pleased to purchase some of his horses, including the US imports, during the winter after his death. She also obtained a herd of Falabella horses from Linda Johnson, including the top stallion RG Gat Remondo, and these new bloodlines did much to enhance the Stud when crossed with British miniatures.

The Stud has produced so many show champions and international champions that their successes are too numerous to mention; however, two of their most notable show stars are TH Count Capuccino, International Supreme Champion of Champions in 1997, and TH Didymus, taking the same title the following year.

Many of the Toyhorses that have won championships over recent seasons have been bought from the Stud and shown by their new owners. Indeed, the Stud is proud of its reputation of being 'the Stud to buy from to succeed in the show ring' because top quality stock is offered for sale each year.

Apart from exporting all over the world, Tikki has played a major role in promoting her beloved 'little ones' at overseas shows, and international exhibitions and trade fairs such as Equitana. Not surprisingly many of her stock have been in much demand over the years for film and television work, but one of the Stud's superstars is without doubt TH Countess Natushka. She hit the headlines in 1996 when she was entered in the Guinness Book of Records as the 'Smallest Horse in the World', measuring just 27" at 4 years old. 'Tushie', as she is affectionately known, simply loves the limelight and is always happy to take a photo call.

Naming hundreds of toyhorses over the years must have put their owner's imagination to the test but I was amused to note that many of the youngsters had been named after racehorses, such as Prince 'Salse', TH 'Primo Dominie', Primo 'Forzando', Prince 'Fayraz', TH 'Arkadian Hero' and Prince 'Midyan'. I wonder what those horses would make of their diminutive namesakes should they ever come face to face!

Before my visit drew to a close, Tikki indicated that her extremely hectic lifestyle was likely to change in the not too distant future - indeed, that she was planning retirement, and that much of her stock would be sold. Her collection of equines had grown to such proportions that she had begun to question her ability to continue running such a huge stud farm that left her with little or no time to spend with her family, or even her own miniature horses and Shetland ponies.

As if to prove her point, Tikki had to rush off - it was 'bottle' time again!

I took the opportunity to wander through the paddocks once more, enjoying the mares and their enchanting foals. It wasn't hard to understand how they had come to play such a huge part in Tikki's life. It would be all too easy to get 'hooked' and to want more and more of them.

After all, these delightful creatures make wonderful pets and companions, and they really could be kept in a (sizeable) back garden. I started to imagine the fun of driving them in harness, or perhaps showing, breeding my own foals. One thing so easily leads to another; no wonder the whole enterprise grew in such an amazing way!

As I sat on the grass a very tiny foal bravely wandered over to meet me, shortly joined by two other little souls, and I thought what a wrench it would be to have to let it all go.

Tikki Adorian can justifiably look back with great pride on her achievements in promoting these very special equines and for bringing so much joy to the many people who have purchased them. Thankful that I had left my cheque book at home (thus eliminating the possibility of making any spontaneous purchases!) I took one last look and bid my newfound friend 'goodbye'.